Out Like a Lion

This was an excerpt from my novella: In the Neighborhood Named for the Stars. It did not make the final cut, but still has a place in my heart.

As the winter released its full-nelson on the land and the ground water began to seep up through the soggy lawns, I sat alone on the wrought iron furniture on my mother’s front porch, in the early evening just as the glass-sliver stars began appearing in the broad blue wash of sky over the houses across the street. I saw a large, low shadow move between the houses, and being that age, you know, the age before fear? I did not resist my curiosity and went to seek out its source. I saw his long thick tawny colored tail in the patterned lawn light of the Older’s backyard and froze. Before vaporizing into the forest, he turned his impossibly huge head to me and slowly closed his amber searchlight eyes.

I knew well enough not to follow him, turned around and returned to my house. But I wanted to reach out and touch his fur, to speak to his unimaginable wildness. Unable to articulate ideas of this scale, I simply let my mind move on to the present concerns of my young life, dinner and television, content to process it when and if I could, later.

I know now that Puma concolor, is called by 40 different English names. By that count, it is the animal with the most names found anywhere in the world. People in the Midwest call him a cougar or a mountain lion, but he is more kin to a common housecat than any sort of lion. I have witnessed his scream and it sounds more like a woman being dismembered than the roar of any big African cat.  Imagine him, glowing golden eyes hunting the tar black night. Loose furred pelt, undulating over taught muscle wrapped bone. Sinew and cartilage stretch connective tissue; silent, predatory and cautious.

More than a century ago he roamed in our woods; reclusive, nocturnal, solitary.

His range is still vast, known to cover up to fifteen hundred miles. One spotted in Connecticut was thought to have been a released exotic pet. A day later, the unfortunate animal was killed by a car: DNA tests proved he came from the Black Hills.

I saw him that night, but I never thought to say a word. Even then I could understand he traveled the underground arteries in secret, flowing between broad rural tracts and narrow wildlife reserves, avoiding the human encroachment that blots up every natural space like a sponge absorbs a pesky spill, An animal like that collapses the distance between present and past; stalking, ambushing, gorging; advancing.

If the man I am now could be in the blackness then, I would speak to that ghost of our Eastern lion and tell him, “You know our woods do not go on forever. You can remember where forever began and can see the end, just over the next daybreak. Your habitat is like a mirage evaporating in the sun of human progress. Yet still you come, traversing interstates in secret, pressed against clapboard siding, crouched beneath closed windows, passing unknowing inhabitants within, gathered around hearths believing their superiority. You know they’re just whistling past the graveyard of a crumbling civilization propped up on thinning supplies of fossil fuel.

Marten and fox will beware your unstoppable procession, set into orbit at a time before time when earth spun on a different axis; they know, in this vernal hour, their season is ended. Puma Capricornensis, proud messenger, driven into secrecy and unaffected by time. I welcome you on your sacred mission. Because still, every year you arrive, summoned by Eostre, to spill the blood of winter and leave in his place the virgin lamb of spring.

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Musings on Brutality

Photo 17It seems like people are waking up. But that does not mean what they are waking up to is new. When I was 20, all of my friends knew it was suicidal to travel through the deep south. There were horror stories dating back decades. Possession of LSD or pot was dangerous, but just being a long-hair in the south was cause for brutality. What we didn’t necessarily realize was that we had chosen our appearance. We made a decision to look like outsiders, but we were ignorant to the underlying meaning. Making ourselves outsiders (through our dress and hairstyles) was a symbolic action. We sought solidarity with all people but especially anyone who was treated differently because of the color of skin, economic status & mobility, religion, ethnicity because they too were brother and sister and they were being wronged, segregated, brutalized all around us. We took on their load as our own.

Many of us had no idea that this was the deeper message at the time. What was important to us was our belonging our tribe. We were free. We could build a new world, a world built on love and acceptance and peace. Even those of us who did not rally or protest, even those who were not artists or musicians, joined this movement. Even if we did not all know what the movement was about.

You will hear that this movement was populated by the young and naïve, like it is some sort of bad thing. Like it was what doomed us to failure. But I think we were simply trying to be childlike – children recognized the need for love, they did not need to lie, they are innocent. We knew that violence and punishment were backward. Our parents created a world for us where we could clearly see that there was a better way. And many people joined that movement for science, understanding, systems, and sustainability. We were kin to pantheistic beliefs in so much as they taught you to recognize the connection between all things, but we were not followers. We developed respect for the concept of elders, we looked for elders worthy of the title.

We found some in the native American shaman, some in writers and artists of the time. And music was understood as the pulse beat of the universe. It was loud and raw and primal, but it had heart and vision and honor. At least that is what we looked for, found and echoed. We sought a connection to the past through a modernized vision of the future. We wanted to be  connected, cyclic, sustained. We crafted ideas like deep ecology, social context, spaceship earth.

And later, I got a chance to live in the deep south, and it was sad and difficult to leave. I learned to love it before I recognized the parasite. And upon recognizing one small part, I followed its trail and uncovered the ugly truth. A truth I knew intimately when I pretended that I was a second class citizen. I guess I’d left that truth behind when I cut my hair. I did not realize that Samson’s fate was true, that when you engage in symbolic action, you become your symbol whether or not you still believe in it.

I cut my hair and outwardly became a member of the dominant society. The power of the symbol receded into the safety of my heart. Where it has brewed in a private turmoil, seeking expression through art and music and writing.

It took several years of recovery in the Pacific Northwest to see these symbols for what they actually were and are. The conclusion is simple. Like the awareness of it had been asleep. But I was not asleep. I had a lid on it. I was hidden, seeking safety. It wasn’t until recently that I felt safe enough to come out into the light and stand; ironic that this is the most apt metaphor now that I live in a region where the sun is traditionally a stranger.

But here is the true dope, friends. All this brutality, these lies and this growing militarization is not new. It was always present, sometimes under scrutiny and sometimes completely in shadow. At all periods of our history, the non-dominant group (READ: anyone who wasn’t white, male, European) has been witness and memory of this brutality. These witnesses may choose to forget, they may forgive in order to survive, but their stories are there – in resistance, in protest, often through women, mothers (the largest minority of all).

These stories tell the truth: That we are the real majority and we are enslaved. Enslaved by this idea that the dominant group has any sort of power, any sort of control. We are enslaved by the idea that we cannot voice our condition, indeed, that we, the real majority, are unable to speak, unable to be heard. We believe that we are helpless when it is us that has real the power, the number, the heart, the memory and the vision. We are enslaved by the lies we have accepted about ourselves and the lies we have been told about the dominant power. And we are all hurt by these lies. It is a divisive lie, to try and convince me that my brother hates me or is different, evil, blind, greedy, violent, uneducated, or god forbid poor – which is the worst lie of all. Because most of those conditions are beyond our control, but poverty? That’s just laziness.

Behold the dominant story

Poverty is a tool used to keep all of us enslaved. The well-off are enslaved by their fear that they will become the poor and the poor are enslaved in a structural poverty, where they believe the lie that belittles them against the dominant group.

If it wasn’t so pervasive and evil I could marvel at its perfection.

This has been visited upon humans since the beginning time. It has progressed to the point where the psychopath is in control now – like the top of some sort of career path. It should become a Meyers Briggs designation; the group most likely to become a greedy, power wielding maniac. The group that fights to die. To kill as many of as possible before they go.

My point is for perspective

We should not be outraged. We should not be surprised. This brutality is nothing new. That story is also a distraction. This new escalating brutality is an old, old parasite who has simply found a new host. We should act as healers to seek out the weakness in the nation’s constitution and focus on strengthening. That is the only way to heal. Everything else is a war. And war always kills. Invasive and violent processes only create reactions, effect to the cause and causes from the effects. An endless feedback loop of damage spreading wider and wider in direct proportion to the force and violence of each retaliatory attack. Healing is not a war.

Healing is what we need. And it is not an airy-fairy notion. Healing and love are essential aspects of the eternal feminine. And the dominant group is also at war with this. So much so that women are actually under attack. How could that be? Would you willingly harm your mother? It makes no sense. Would you kill your actual sister? Or brother? It is insane to think that we support death. So why, in the face of all this evidence we have been sold lies and they are now the status quo, why do we continue to believe what we are told?

NOTE: Image from http://img.wikinut.com/img/_jcaw6on5114awvh/jpeg/0/NYPD-Brutality.jpeg

Where They Go

“Mom, where do they go when they die?”

She was loading bags of groceries into the trunk of the car. She did not answer. I walked over to the bird lying on the brown mulch piled up next to a skinny tree. The mulch was surrounded by a concrete curb in the FoodMart parking lot. The bird, one dull beady eye staring, was some kind of brown and grey sparrow-like thing. One wing was stretched out, and its neck bent the wrong way.

“Mom?” I repeated, looking down at the bird.

She must have thought I was going to pick it up. Because she grabbed my shoulder and pulled me toward the car. I might have already bent down. The sun glinted off the chrome bumper.

“Don’t touch dead birds, Sammy, they carry diseases.”

“Where do they carry them?” I asked.

She didn’t answer, just pushed me into the back seat and closed the car door. I could hear her through the rolled up windows, “You didn’t touch it did you? Buckle up now, you know, seat belts save lives.”

///

“It’s a sin to tell a lie,” she said.

It was a different day, the weather was cooler. We were in the garage, having just returned from the eye doctor. After she closed the garage door the sun shined through the cracks between the door panels, painting lines on the cement floor. It smelled like fertilizer, motor oil, and gasoline. I told her that I dreamed I was in the backyard, but then I woke up, and I really was in the backyard. The grass was wet. I was in my pajamas looking up at the cold, black, starry sky. I started to cry, and I wished I was back in my bed. So that’s why there were leaves and stuff on the sheets this morning; ‘cause my feet got dirty in my dream.

I asked, “What’s a sin?”

///

The water is freezing. The bathroom has blue tiles on the walls and the tub is blue too, just lighter. They must have filled it with ice cubes and then they put me in. My skin burns, all over my whole body. My hands and feet feel huge. I am fighting with strong hands. Everything in the room is tilted and wrong­­­–the toilet looks too big; the shower curtain around my dad’s face looks tiny. He is speaking, but I can’t understand the words. I can see up his nose, smell the cigarettes on his breath. I wonder: why are you killing me? I am crying, pleading for my mommy. “Mommy, get me out!” I was so cold before, and now I am on fire. When I close my eyes everything is orange with yellow at the edges.  I want to be out of the water, but I am confused and afraid. As I gasp for air, I hear someone say, “Shush, it’s okay,” And then the little tiled room fills with screams again; the screams are coming from me.

///

I am sitting on my grandfather’s rocking chair on his porch somewhere far away from home. My feet do not touch the floorboards where the grey paint is peeling. It is summer, and flies are flying around the dirty rug in front of the screen door where Chester, my grandpa’s dog, sleeps. It smells hot and dirty like old cooking grease. Chester is mean, I have been bitten, but he is nowhere around now. I want a Good Humor. I want to be home watching cartoons. I want to be anywhere but here. The flies land on me, in my face–on my hands. My mom has warned me about the germs. I am afraid to touch the grimy railing or the grimy doorknob. I squeeze my eyes shut. I remember Dorothy in the movie The Wizard of OZ. I whisper, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.” I hold my breath; I strain and push and grit my teeth. Sweat runs down my forehead, into my eyes. It tickles my nose; I wipe at it with the side of my hand.

When I open my eyes I am still here. The air is so hot and still that the fence in the front yard looks like it is a reflection in the lake. I remember the lake. The water is cold and dark and deep. I think about the splintery wood on the dock, the metal boat tied up with a thick, scratchy, knotted rope, a black tire tube floating. I can hear the little waves splashing against the posts and the boat banging against the dock.

I no longer want to go anywhere. The idea of the lakeside is just like being there. I relax. I hear other kids playing nearby. When I open my eyes I am sitting on the little sandy beach by the water. A motor boat skims by out in the middle of the lake.

///

She is old. We have had her ever since I can remember. I put my face into the wiry brown fur on her heaving side and listen to her insides; breathing, panting. Like a city of noises gurgling underground. Shallow breaths, up and down–in and out.

They tell me she is dying. I know that it means she will go away.

Somewhere.

I ask, “why?” There is no answer. I ask, “Where will Brownie go?”

My dad walks away. My mom says, “Heaven dear, she is going to heaven.”

I have heard this before. I know they don’t know where that is.

I lean in near her ear, it is very soft. She is panting little pants. I say, “it’s okay now, you can go.” Her tail lifts and falls once, twice. The muscles in her shoulder tighten, and her head lifts off the floor just a little. I think for a moment that she is going to get up, and I move away to give her some space. But she drops back onto the floor and sighs–a long whistling exhale. The panting stops. Her eye is closed, like she is asleep, but I know she isn’t. She’s gone. Brownie’s body is there but not Brownie. I think, I wonder where she is?

///

Wallstone’s Black Duchess. She was the one. I could just tell. One in a jumble of black, tan, and white fur; wobbling on unsteady legs. It was hard to imagine that this little fuzzy rat would someday grow into a dog. Her brothers and sisters squeaked and growled, tumbling over one another in the open cardboard box.

Mom said, “She will be bigger than Brownie, you know. Collies are big, athletic dogs; you are going to have to walk her every day.”

I was hardly listening. I held the little puff ball with my thumbs hooked under her front legs, and raised the tiny black nose to mine. Her puppy eyes were still blue, sort-of unfocused.

My dad said, “I think we’re going to take this one. Sammy? You can call her Duchess.”

The puppy stopped squirming. Her hind legs hung limp. Her little pink tongue flicked out and kissed me. I thought: is that you?

I said, “Mom? I think she recognizes me. It’s Brownie! She’s come back home to me.”

///

My 6th period math teacher, Mr. Mulligan, was the most boring man on the planet. If I wasn’t drawing a battle between the Cylons and the Federation on the inside cover of my math notebook, I would have been asleep. While Mulligan droned on about multiplying negative fractions I saw the janitor, Joe Stern, out the window, riding around and around in circles on the Columbia Middle School lawn mower.

I thought he had to be getting dizzy, just going in circles like that. Mulligan’s voice, the low humming of the motor through the closed windows, and the hot room became too much. I watched a fly land on the windowsill and crawl around, buzzing on and off. Outside, Mr. Stern went around and around and around. My eyes began to close.

I must have fallen asleep, because when the breeze hit my face, I woke up standing in the fresh cut grass outside. The janitor turned just in time to avoid running me over. I stood there blinking. I didn’t know how I got there. I told them, but they didn’t believe me. I got three days of detention for leaving the building without a pass.

///

By the time I was in high school, it had happened enough times that I realized I might end up wherever my attention focused. I was jumpy and nervous, worrying that it would happen unexpectedly. My grades were horrible, I wasn’t sleeping.

I met Alice in the cafeteria. She sat next to me and said, “I remember you from middle school. I was in Mulligan’s class that day, and I saw you disappear.” We became pretty good friends. She told me, “You have a gift, Sammy; you should practice it to make it stronger, like a muscle.” She wanted to help.

My mom had gone back to work, so there was nobody to bother us at my house. Alice suggested I try simple moves at first, like from the den to the bathroom. I discovered that all I had to do was to clearly imagine one detail, like the pattern in the counter top or the way the chrome around the sink drain was chipped, and I would find myself sitting on the toilet or on the edge of the bathtub. A moment later Alice would call after me: “Hey Sammy, you in there?”

I wanted to teach her how I did it, but she didn’t want to try. Once I grabbed her hand just before I moved, but she yanked it back and stormed out of the house. We never talked about it, and I didn’t bring it up again. Alice was my only friend.

///

One afternoon just before Christmas my mom and dad showed up at school together. I was called down to the office; they told me to go by my locker and collect my stuff. We drove all night to a hospital in Saint Louis. My grandpa was very ill, and he might not live through the night. When we arrived in the morning the priest was just leaving. My grandpa was a big, gruff man; I used to be afraid of him. But he looked small and pale in that hospital bed. His color reminded me of an old shirt that has been washed too many times.

My mom said, “Dad? Sammy’s here, and Paul… We’re all here to say goodbye, dad. Can you hear me?” She motioned me to come closer.

I really wanted to get away from that room. If I let myself, I could be somewhere else in a moment, but it would be hard to explain. I moved up next to him, and he mumbled. I asked, “What did you say grandpa?”

I sat down in the chair next to the bed. My mom said, “Listen Sam, you stay here with him for a bit. Your dad and I are going for coffee. Do you want anything?” I shook my head.

I sat there listening to his breathing; he had those little tubes under his nose, and he would wheeze on every exhale. I looked around the room. There was a plastic bed pan; a vase of wilting flowers, the TV remote–it seemed so sad and superficial that my big strong grandfather was dying in such a cruddy little room.

He suddenly opened his eyes, but he wasn’t looking at me. He said, very clearly, “I don’t know how to do this.”

“Do what grandpa?”

“I can’t find it; I can’t find the door…”

I thought of the time in the ice bath. My mom told me that I had a 106 degree fever, and they were afraid I was going to die. It gave me an idea, I said, “Can you see an orange light, grandpa?”

“Where’s the light? I can’t find the light.” He was only taking short, little breaths.

I imagined the pulsing orange light with the yellow around the edges. I looked into the image in my mind and noticed that it was like a flame. Little blue sparks shot out of the center like ribbons. I was standing in front of an open doorway with the orange light radiating from the room on the other side. It wasn’t hot or anything. My grandpa was standing next to me looking off to the side. I took his big, soft hand, and pulled him forward.  I said, “Look Gramps, there’s the door, you want to go through it? It’s okay you know. I think that’s where you’re supposed to go.”

He didn’t look at me. He said “Oh yes.” Then he walked through and disappeared into the light.

I watched for a moment; my heart pounding, but not because I was scared. I wondered where he was going, and I wanted to follow, but I remembered my mom and dad. The next moment I was sitting in the chair. I looked over at the body on the bed. A faint smile curled the corner of his ashen lips, but my grandfather was already gone.

›š###

NOTE: This piece was graciously published in Connotation Press (and I am in pretty good company there!). Please check them out and SUBMIT!

Creative Commons License
Where they Go by Ron Heacock is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://www.connotationpress.com/fiction/1757-ron-heacock-fiction.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at ron@hillhousewriters.com.

Falling Forward

You are walking. It is late morning. The sun has that deceptive midwinter angle to it that makes everything look as though it should be warm and inviting, but it is not. It couldn’t be more than twenty degrees. The shadows are sharp-edged, and the air is crystalline. There are no clouds; just a broad curving blue from one horizon to the other. You look at your watch, but immediately forget the time.

On a morning like this, as cold as it is, everything seems possible and unhidden. But like the blue cloudlessness; you know it’s an illusion. The thin band of atmosphere clinging to earth’s surface reflects the sun’s visible spectrum. It’s just a mask for the unimaginably desolate eternity of black space.

Even so, everything is fine on a morning like this; the truth is a comfort in its nakedness.

Your boots have worn in to the point where they do not hurt your feet. And thick wool socks give your toes a packed-in feeling – warm, dry and supported by well-crafted, handmade leatherwork. Your soles scuff the small stones in the parking lot as you stride toward the street, habitually glancing both ways.

blackbirdblueskyA raven, like a cutout in azure construction paper, arrows by above just within your vision field. An itch on the back of your neck should be a signal, but the day is so wide open, you distract yourself by scrunching up the lint inside your glove with the nail of your pointer finger.

You are not planning anything, exactly. More the feeling of falling forward into the slipstream of your life. You enjoy being pulled along into the next continuous now. Feeling content, it’s almost like floating.

As you near the middle of the street, a thought bubbles to surface about a child you once saw through the window of a small meat and three diner in town. A woman, presumably her mother, was dabbing at her young girl’s chin with a napkin. You are overwhelmed in re-witnessing this memory; the love of the gentle demonstration; the silent, insulated viewing through plate glass.

As the panel truck strikes your right side, the same side as the fingernail and glove lint scrunching, and your body is launched into the crisp space above the rough pavement, you focus on the crow, strangely, still suspended above the scene as though it were an element in a collage. Your body’s silhouette is pressed into the metal grillwork of the vehicle. The boots remain where you last stood. Your discarded watch and leather gloves lie nearby.

Though you recognize the coda, there is no pain or regret. A smile curls in anticipation of the symphony’s next movement: You are now all curiosity and wonder. It is the possibility of love’s lingering that you follow forward.

###

NOTE: This story was published by The Pitkin Review in the print issue of Fall 2012
Creative Commons License
Falling Forward by Ron Heacock is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://wp.me/p4fgRf-18.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at ron@hillhousewriters.com.